Reckless driver who killed pedestrian at 100km/hr gets suspended sentence after retrial

Accused was 18 in 2011 when he killed elderly pedestrian in Qawra, had prison sentence overturned by appeals court, now turned into suspended sentence on retrial

File photo: The hit-and-run incident had taken place on the Qawra seafront
File photo: The hit-and-run incident had taken place on the Qawra seafront

A hit-and-run driver has been handed a suspended sentence for running over and killing an elderly pedestrian in Qawra in 2011, having been retried after his jail sentence was quashed on a technicality. 

Mel Spiteri was just 18 when he had taken the keys to his father’s Mitsubishi FTO and taken it for a spin along the Qawra promenade on June 26, 2011. 

Spiteri’s speeding car struck Elizabeth Tucknutt Whilems at over 100km/hr, killing her instantly. Her mangled body was found 38 metres from the point of impact. 

The unlicensed driver had been found guilty in 2014 and condemned to a two-year prison sentence, a €2,330 fine and a one-year driving ban, as well as being ordered to pay court expenses which added up to €4,000. 

He had appealed and in October 2019, Madam Justice Consuelo had quashed his conviction on the grounds that the court of magistrates had not stated clearly in the operative part of the judgment, which charges it was basing the conviction on. 

Declaring it null, the judge had sent the case back to the court of Magistrates to be heard anew.

The task of re-hearing the case fell to magistrate Rachel Montebello, who noted in her judgment that the road in question was long and straight, well-lit at night and with good visibility. Whilst there was an element of contributory negligence, because the victim had not been crossing the road on a designated zebra crossing, this did not exculpate the accused, said the magistrate, as it was his dangerous behaviour that was the sole cause of the incident. 

“The court adds that it observes that the velocity with which the accused was driving before the impact, as well as after it, renders somewhat immaterial the fact that the victim may or may not have been crossing on a zebra crossing a few metres away from the point of impact.” 

It was obvious that the accused “had chosen to abdicate from all caution and prudence” and closed his eyes to the inevitable, predictable dangers of speeding at over 100km/hr in the area, said the court. 

However, the punishment for overspeeding should be absorbed into that of the more serious offences, said the court. 

It also emerged during the hearing of the case that the accused and his friend Ryan Micallef had agreed to park the vehicle in Iklin, smash a window and claim that it was stolen by joyriders at the time of the fatal impact. As a result of this, he was also charged with simulation of an offence, and found guilty. 

Before sentencing the accused, the court said that it agreed with the general rule that a prison sentence is not the opportune punishment for involuntary traffic incidents, but in cases of extremely reckless driving resulting in deaths, this case should be judged on its merits. The magistrate noted that the accused had not shown concrete remorse for his actions or demonstrated regret to the family of the victim. 

But on the other hand, the court said it felt it had to take into account the fact that while tragic, this incident was also isolated and unfortunate, caused by the folly of youth and not due to the influence of alcohol or drugs. Spiteri’s probation officer had reported that the man had a structured and stable life and had no further trouble with the law during the intervening years. 

Amongst other charges Spiteri was found guilty of involuntary homicide, simulation of an offence, driving without a licence and dangerous driving and sentenced to 24 months’ imprisonment, suspended for three years, together with a fine of €2,500, payable within three months. He was also condemned to pay €6,253 in costs and disqualified from driving for a year.

Lawyers Franco Debono and Amadeus Cachia appeared for Spiteri.

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